TikTok: privileged witness of the crisis in Ukraine and tool of disinformation at the same time

Written by Guillaume
Publication date: {{ dayjs(1645462852*1000).local().format("L").toString()}}
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Because you can be a social network used by millions of teenagers around the world and a source of information for more serious intelligence organizations.

Unless you live in a cave in Larzac and have no connection with the outside world, it's impossible not to have heard about the major geopolitical event that has been unfolding before our eyes for several years now, but has taken on a colossal scale in recent weeks. Russia has indeed massed large military forces on the northern border of Ukraine, on its own territory and on the neighboring territory of Belarus. According to the Russian authorities, these are only large-scale military exercises, but Western governments do not believe this version and believe that Russia is preparing an invasion of Ukraine.

Why should we talk about this on DriversCloud? Because a very popular computer tool today has become a kind of unavoidable witness of the situation, TikTok. Developed by the Chinese company ByteDance, the application allows the distribution of videos in a very simple and fast way. It is widely used by celebrities and a large audience of teenagers, young adults to broadcast a lot of musical or humorous content ... but not only.

Indeed, for several months now, TikTok users have been using it to film and broadcast videos illustrating the movements of Russian troops and equipment. As you can see in the clip above, the videos can be quite accurate, and as Benjamin Strick, Director of Investigations at the Center for Information Resilience (CIR), a nonprofit organization focused on countering influence operations, explains, " There is a lot of data " on TikTok. His team carefully compares the various videos posted on TikTok with satellite imagery and other official data in an effort to confirm their authenticity and map military movements.

" TikTok is certainly one of the main platforms used to document this," says Eliot Higgins, founder of the open source investigative unit Bellingcat, which has been exposing Russian espionage for years. Sandra Joyce, executive vice president and head of global intelligence at the security firm Mandiant, however, says we need to " be careful consumers of information, wary of the possibility of active measures designed to deceive us " because TikTok videos can obviously be manipulated. Benjamin Strick confirms this, indicating that " less reliable " images exist on TikTok: " These can be old images, images that were along the borders of Ukraine but from previous years, as well as images from other conflicts."

However, TikTok's responsiveness being what it is, there is a good chance that if there is an invasion, its users will broadcast the first images. Bellingcat is well aware of this and is now working to keep as many videos as possible. Archives that could then be used for possible investigations and legal proceedings in the event of a war breaking out.